There are more than 80,000 jailed and imprisoned mothers in the United States; these women have at least 150,000 dependent children or an average of 2.4 children each (Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents, 1993). The issue of child placement and custody during maternal incarceration has consistently been a major focus of research and literature on female offenders (Baunach, 1979; Beckerman, 1989, 1994; Bloom & Steinhart, 1993; Henriques, 1982; McGowan & Blumenthal, 1978; Zalba, 1964; Zietz, 1963). These reports and others have identified a persistent pattern of child custody and placement problems among women offenders including (a) multiple placements for their children (Baunach, 1979; Hadley, 1981; Johnston, 1992; Stanton, 1980; Zalba, 1964), (b) difficulty in meeting family reunification requirements (Beckerman, 1994), (c) an increasing association of maternal recidivism with decreased rates of postincarceration mother-child reunification (Johnston, 1991; McGowan & Blumenthal, 1978), and (d) high rates of termination of maternal rights (Johnston, 1992; National Black Child Development Institute, 1989). This literature and experience working with jailed and imprisoned women led the Pacific Oaks Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents (CCIP) to develop child custody advocacy for prisoners as one of its first direct service projects.
The Child Custody Advocacy Services (CHICAS) Project was created in 1990 with the intent of assisting incarcerated women in southern California to retain and regain custody of their children. The project quickly expanded to serve both male and female prisoners and their family members throughout the United States.
Child custody advocacy for prisoners is critical in light of a well-documented pattern of inadequate social services for incarcerated women (Barry & Reid-Green, 1990; Beckerman, 1994; Singer, Bussey, Song, & Lunghofer, 1995; Zalba, 1964; Zietz, 1963). Although there are many programs that provide postconviction legal services for prisoners, few include representation for parents with cases in the juvenile dependency or family courts. CHICAS offers a variety of child custody- and placement-related services. Project advocacy bridges some of the gaps between services provided by child welfare agencies and services provided by juvenile court attorneys; CHICAS staff facilitate parent-child contact and visitation, help parents meet reunification requirements, provide referrals, and arrange postrelease placements for parents. In family court cases, and in cases of clients whose families are not under the jurisdiction of any court, CHICAS provides mediation of family conflicts over child custody, assists with child placements, arranges powers of attorney and legal guardianships, and locates children for incarcerated parents.
CHICAS has provided services to more than 800 persons. The great majority of all project clients have been prisoners. Small numbers of prisoners' children, caregivers of prisoners' children, former prisoners, and offenders under community supervision have also used CHICAS services. This report describes the 660 jailed and imprisoned parents who were CHICAS clients during the 5 years between January 1, 1990, and December 31, 1994, and the child custody problems of and services requested by the 500 incarcerated mothers in that group.
DESCRIPTION OF CLIENTS AND THEIR CHILDREN
Three quarters of all incarcerated CHICAS clients during the period covered by this report were mothers, and one quarter were fathers (Table 1). Most (69.1%) clients were incarcerated for drug offenses or drug-related crimes, including 80.2% of incarcerated mothers and 34.3% of incarcerated fathers (Table 2).
TABLE 1: Incarcerated CHICAS Clients, 1990-1994
Type of Clients Number
Incarcerated parents 660 Incarcerated mothers 500 Incarcerated fathers 160
[TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED]
Female clients had an average of 2.7 children each, compared to an average of 1.4 children each for male clients. Altogether, incarcerated parents receiving CHICAS services had 1,571 minor children, including 1,341 "index" children who were the subjects of their parents' request for services. Female clients had an average of 2.2 index children each, whereas male clients had an average of 1.4 index children each. Clients' children are described in Table 3.
The majority (69.8%) of CHICAS clients had index children in the foster care system and under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court; female clients were twice as likely as male clients to have children in foster care. About 15% of clients had index children who were the subject of family court cases; incarcerated fathers were three times as likely as incarcerated mothers to be involved in family court actions. The index children of 13.0% of incarcerated mothers and 20.6% of incarcerated fathers were not under the jurisdiction of any court. Finally, a very few (1.2%) male clients did not know which, if any, court had jurisdiction over their children's custody. This data are shown in Table 4.
[TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 3 OMITTED]
TABLE 4: Court Jurisdiction In Cases of Incarcerated CHICAS Clients, 1990-1994
Cases of Cases of Incarcerated Incarcerated Court Fathers Mothers All Cases
Juvenile (dependency) 70(43.8) 391(78.2) 461(69.8) Family (divorce) 54(33.8) 45(9.0) 99(15.0) None …